The Knife’s Karin Dreijer Won’t Be Hammering Anywhere

mariasci | December 15, 2008 11:30 am

If you heard the Knife’s last album, Silent Shout (and if you’re reading Idolator, odds are good that you did), you shouldn’t be too surprised with the sound of the solo album from the group’s vocalist, Karin Dreijer. “If I Had a Heart” features the same creepy pitch-shifted vocals dipping into a sort of chopped and screwed haze while slowly rotating organ lines churn underneath; if you left it on repeat, it would circle back on itself perfectly, and you could probably cause some serious psychological damage to your roommate if you locked the door to your bedroom and just kept it on blast for a few hours. What you may be surprised about, however, is that it seems to be referencing a Pete Seeger song.

The folk-song structure is clear from the beginning. The first verse consists of alternating rising-and-falling lines, with the falling line coming through as a refrain that will repeat in the third verse. And then in the second verse, the title line appears, but with an answering line:

If I had a heart I could love you If I had a voice I’d sing After the night when I wake up I’d see what tomorrow brings Aaaaah Aaaaah Aaaaah If I had a voice, I’d sing

And in this, it sure sounds like a sort of monadic rewrite of “If I Had a Hammer.” The second verse there goes:

If I had a song I’d sing it in the morning I’d sing it in the evening All over this land I’d sing out danger I’d sing out a warning I’d sing out love between my brothers and my sisters All over this land

Same sort of impulse—if the singer could sing, things would happen in the evening in the morning, and love would result. But where Seeger’s song engages in ironic understatement (oh, the great things I could do if I had various objects or abilities!) before breaking out with an affirmation in the final verse that all these things are possible, no such breakthrough occurs in Dreijer’s song. If she had a voice, she could sing, but she never seems to get that voice, even as the pitch-shifting effect comes off for single lines and her beautiful natural voice breaks through. All she’s left with is uncertainty. The original’s rallying cry asserting the possibility of collective action with meager means turns into isolation and stasis, the drone underneath unchanging. Where before there was a silent shout, now there’s no shout at all. But it’s not the way she wants it; she wants more, “gimme more,” wants this to change, still seems to think that if she had these things she could accomplish something. They’re just not available right now.

Fever Ray [MySpace] On Repeat: Fever Ray [The Knife’s Karin Dreijer]: “If I Had a Heart” [Pitchfork]